Is the NHL morphing into the NBA? Is it becoming a league and sport where even touch fouls are called by whistle-happy refs dead set on controlling and interfering in contests from the opening whistle to the final horn?
To a certain extent, I might be exaggerating to make a point. The NHL’s officiating, unlike their counterparts in the NBA, is still hands down the best in professional sports.
However, I feel that if one looks objectively at the state of the “new” NHL and more specifically to where Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell are taking the league, it is hard to deny that post lockout rule changes have irrevocably altered the fabric of the game.
For proof of this disturbing trend, one need look no farther than last night's call on Niklas Kronwall.
At 13:08 of the first period of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, the Wings' Niklas Kronwall was called for a five-minute interference major for allegedly taking an illegal run at the Hawks' Martin Havlat.
Kronwall cleanly hit Havlat with a thunderous body check that the great Scott Stevens would be proud of. There was certainly no penalty -- neither a two-, four- nor five-minute infraction was warranted for one of the most exhilarating and cleanest hits I’ve witnessed during this year’s playoffs.
Havlat had his head down, the puck between his feet and paid a price for it. That’s it.
The officials themselves did not see an infraction until they saw Havlat's crumpled body on the ice and figured they had missed something. They must have.
Imagine an injury in a sport where 10 200-pound guys skate around a patch of ice at speeds of nearly 30 mph.
In fact, the on-ice officials made the call only when they realized Havlat was down for the proverbial count. Make no bones about it, the puck was there, Havlat had his head down and the hit was clean.
What’s happened to an NHL were skilled payers were held accountable for their own foolishness? Guys like Patrik Kane and Martin Havlat need to know who’s on the ice at all times. You simply cannot look down when you are in a position of vulnerability, especially when the likes of Niklas Kronwall are patrolling the rink.
Making matters worse is the fact that not only did the call disrupt the ebb and flow of the game by awarding the Hawks a five-minute power play, but it also erased any possibility of a real nastiness, any true circumstance-based rivalry developing in the series.
The call on Kronwall, in essence, blocked the natural progression of the game and series.
Even though the hit was clean, there’s not one shred of doubt in my mind that the likes of Burish, Byfuglein or worse yet Ben “eager to hurt someone” Eager would have gone a huntin’ for a bit of Zetterberg. Sounds barbaric, but isn’t that what makes hockey the “coolest game on earth"?
Instead, the game remained as soft as an NBA contest, and any chance of the teams developing a real, not historically based hatred was stomped out.
We miss the fights, Claude “the Turtle” Lemieux getting his head stepped on by Darren McCarty, Scott Stevens obliterating Lindros, Kozlov, Kariya, Tie Domi, Francis and half the Carolina Hurricanes into kingdom come.
We dream of seeing Patrick Roy pounding Osgood into the ground, then getting arrested at his million-dollar mansion for tearing it to shreds because of an inability to turn his on ice insanity off at home.
We miss the days of the Broad Street Bullies, Bobby Clark, a league where players were shamed for ducking a fair fight and players like Kronwall actually paid a price for going after a star player.
We would all love to see either one of these two series go in that direction as well, but alas, it’s not to be. Call me sick, but heck, I miss the old NHL.
The best we can hope for these days is the likes of Sean Avery playing dress up to keep our edgier sides satiated.
It’s a shame that Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell just don’t see things this way.
Okay, I am sensationalizing a tad. None of us wants to witness violence in sports, but a little bit of the rough stuff ain't all that bad.
The NHL has ruined the great game of ice hockey due to a desire to increase offense and skilled play and to generate interest in what’s perceived by the general public as a slightly barbaric sport.
I suppose if they’re tying to target the market that watches American Idol, buys designer shirts and supports the likes of Paris Hilton, this might be an effective strategy. However, if they’re trying to alienate guys who’ve sported pads, eaten, drank and slept hockey for the bulk of their lives, then Mr. Bettman should think again.